‘The Gilded Age’ finds 19th century authenticity in Cohoes’ mills and theater

COHOES – When Season Two of HBO’s “The Gilded Age” debuts, the audience will see the Harmony Mills complex standing in for Pittsburgh and scenes from a play performed on the Cohoes Music Hall stage.

Executive Producer David Crockett described in an interview how the series set in 19th century New York City is expanding its storylines and its cast of characters leading the show, to break out of its Troy base from the first season to take advantage of settings in Albany and Cohoes.

“We like Troy so much, but we’re hoping to see some new areas … Our story expands for a second season. We need new locations and different things to see. We’re working our way around,” Crockett said.

Just as the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall stood in for a concert hall in New York City, the Cohoes Music Hall, which opened in 1874, will provide the performance space for a play.

“We have a theater scene that we will be shooting there,” Crockett said. The crews will film portions of a play that will be performed in the Music Hall, which is in the upper stories of a bank building.

“The Gilded Age,” with its nine episodes set in 1882, was created and written by Julian Fellowes, who also was the creative force behind the “Downton Abbey” series set in Great Britain.  While “The Gilded Age” takes place in late 19th century New York depicting the lives of society’s upper crust, “Downtown Abbey” occurs several decades later in the 20th century portraying the lives of British aristocrats.

During the 2021 filming in Troy, Fellowes kept an eye remotely on the production from Great Britain. When filming starts locally in August, Fellowes may appear in the Capital Region for a few days to visit the sets, Crockett said.

“He’s trying to figure out his schedule. He’s made a point to say he really, really wants to try to come after seeing so much of it on film,” Crockett said.

Fellowes’ work demands historic authenticity.  Troy in the first season gave that feeling in creating Gilded Age Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Crockett said he marveled at the depth Troy’s surviving 19th century streetscape gave the production without having to rely on massive use of computer generated graphics.

While production crews are slowly arriving in Troy to begin preparations, the series will film about one-third of its scenes each in Troy, Cohoes and Albany, Crockett said.

Harmony Mills, which straddles either side of North Mohawk Street, will stand in for the Pittsburgh mills that tycoon George Russell, portrayed by Morgan Spector, owns in Pittsburgh.  Harmony Mills, now home to apartments and lofts, was at one time the largest cotton mill complex in the world after it was built in the late 19th century. 

The production also is looking at streets in Cohoes for exteriors.  Cataract and School streets, which are lined with housing for the original mill workers were scoped out last year.

“The Gilded Age” has picked some of the city’s “gems” to film and it shows that Cohoes’ plans to preserve and enhance its historic buildings are paying off, Mayor William Keeler said.

In Albany, the First Presbyterian Church at Willett and State streets will be used for a church scene as may other churches in the city.  Albany’s Washington Park will stand in for scenes set in Central Park in New York, Crockett said.


Location scouts and the production team took a long look at using the Oklahoma Track in Saratoga Springs, but it won’t be filmed this year, Crockett said.  It may later on if the series continues to be renewed.

“Everything that we do is really looking for pieces of the puzzle,” Crockett said.

That’s what’s occurring with the depiction of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. While Troy’s widow’s walks and upper stories were studied, it appears that it will be a welding of local appearances and computer graphics to catch the flavor of the hoopla surrounding the bridge linking Brooklyn to Manhattan.

“Everybody had a great time up here last year. It’s an enjoyable place to spend time. It’s an enjoyable place to film,” Crockett said about the region.

 

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